Summary: (Appropriate for Watchnight or New Year's Eve service as well.) As Christians we live in the certainty that Jesus is coming again. It could be today, tomorrow, or any moment. We need to wake up, clean up, and grow up.
A Wake-up Call
A priest and pastor were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that read, "The End is near! Turn around before it's too late!"
One speeding motorist yelled out his window, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” as he flew by. From around the curve they heard screeching tires and a big splash.
“Do you think," said one clergy to the other, "we should just put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”
Today we’ll talk about how the end of this world as we know it is nearer than it has ever been before. The word “Advent” means “coming.” As we celebrate the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, we also remember that the risen Christ is coming for a second time. In fact, for every verse in the Bible prophesying about Jesus’ first coming, there are eight that prophesy about his second coming! Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesus was the original “I'll be back!” In Revelation 22:7 Jesus says, “I am coming soon!” And we can say with the apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Luke 22:20).
In today's passage, the Apostle Paul writes with a sense of urgency. We need to be ready for Christ's return at any moment. It could be today. It could be tomorrow. Billy Graham once said, “We are to wait for the coming of Christ with patience. We are to watch with anticipation. We are to work with zeal. We are to prepare with urgency.” The famous commentator Warren Wiersbe sums up today’s passage in three commands: “Wake up, Clean up, and Grow up!” Let's consider these:
1. Wake up! Paul begins with an alarm clock analogy. He says in verse 11, “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” I am absolutely convinced that we are living in the End Times. Do you know how I know? Because any time between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return from heaven is called the End Times. No one knows how long this period of time will last, but it’s all part of the End Times. First century Christians initially believed that Jesus would return immediately. When he didn’t, some grew complacent and began to lose a sense of commitment to their faith. So, Paul reminded them that they were ever nearer to their ultimate salvation, their heavenly home.
Jesus told a parable with a similar theme, the Parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. In that story, ten virgins—who today we might call bridesmaids—were waiting on the groom to arrive for the wedding, but they got drowsy after waiting all night. Finally, word came that he was on the way, but half the bridesmaids hadn’t brought any oil for their lamps. They tried to borrow from the half that had, but were told, “We don’t have enough for both; go buy some more.” By the time they did so and returned, the wedding party had begun and they were locked out.
The central point of the parable reflects the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared!” You never know when the groom will return for his bride. Scripture repeatedly refers to Jesus as the groom and the church as his bride. Church, wake up from your slumber and get ready for his return! Secondly, Paul says ...
2. Clean up. We don’t want to be found dirty when Christ returns. Paul describes the waiting period as “night.” I’ve told our son, when he wants to stay out late with his friends, “Nothing good happens in the city after midnight!” Paul uses night and day not just to illustrate periods of time, but also good and evil. In verse 12 he says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That last phrase, “armor of light,” suggests there is some protection in seeking to live godly lives.
In verse 13 Paul gives three couplets, or six examples of behavior to avoid. He says, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” There’s a temptation here for everyone. Even after one has sufficiently aged past the physical temptations of carousing and debauchery, there remain those nasty internal temptations of dissension and jealousy.
So how do we clean up when we so easily return to old temptations? We can all identify with Paul’s words in Romans chapter 7, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. ... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:18-19, 24). Recurrent sin reminds us that we are “powerless to change,” in the words of AA. So we can also say with Paul, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25)! Our only hope for change rests in our Savior. And that leads us to part 3, which is to ...